How to Help Parents & Kids Cope with Big Issues During Tough Times

This podcast will focus on how we can help young people and ourselves understand how to regulate our big emotions during very triggering times. The anger and frustration isn’t wrong—but what do we do with these emotions? How do we listen, learn, grow and understand ourselves and others during these tough times? At the root of it all, we must treat each person with dignity and stand up for ourselves when we are not treated with dignity. We all have a right to dignity.

Guest Expert: Rosalind Wiseman

We all need to hone the ability to regulate ourselves and teach and model for our children and students how to do the same. That means sharpening our social and emotional skills so that we can function and thrive in today’s society—creating healthy relationships and health and wellbeing for ourselves as well. What are the core social and emotional concepts that we need to understand? How does our understanding of how we deal with anger, frustration, shame, discomfort and anxiety play a role on how we relate to others and how we conduct ourselves with others? We all need support in these areas- now more than ever—for both ourselves and the young people we care for each day. To delve into these important topics, I will be interviewing the fabulous Rosalind Wiseman for the second time on How to Talk to Kids about Anything.

From where we learn to where we work, Rosalind Wiseman fosters civil dialogue and inspires communities to build strength, courage and purpose. She is the founder of Cultures of Dignity; an organization that shifts the way communities think about our physical and emotional wellbeing by working in close partnership with the experts of those communities–young people, educators, policy makers, and business and political leaders. A multiple New York Times best-selling author including Queen Bees and Wannabes that was made into the movie and musical Mean Girls, a frequent contributor to the New York Times, Washington Post and other publications and international speaker, she lives in Boulder Colorado with her husband and two sons. She and her team created these very handy and helpful “tiny guides,”a set of small books on everything from dignity to emotional granularity to anger and shame that provide tools and skills to manage ourselves and our relationships (and help the young people we love and guide to manage themselves and their relationships) under exceptional circumstances.

The podcast provides:

  • A discussion about the need to provide kids and parents with ways to talk about big emotions by developing emotional granularity.
  • How we can clarify emotions and help our kids
  • How to help kids with emotional granularity
  • How to adapt to rather than avoid frustration
  • When to give people a second chance when they’ve done something ignorant and/or incredibly hurtful.
  • How to separate dignity from respect—and why that’s important.

Important Messages:

  • Tiny guides are 18 separate guides that walk people through how to cope, manage and understand issues like anger and frustration as well as anxiety and dignity—understand the world around you especially when things are complex and pretty stressful- like now.
  • Emotional granularity: the ability to have a wide range of precise, specific words to describe how you are feeling. This is important because our culture doesn’t affirm the complex feelings of children and teens. Young people have very strong feelings. We need to give them tools to talk about their emotions so that they aren’t controlled by those feelings and are able to speak, draw or write about them. We all need this- so much more obvious now since this is a very tough time.
  • One of the things we should NOT say to young people: “I know how you are feeling, I was your age once too.” Even though it’s true that you were their age, nobody knows what someone else’s life experiences are. We can relate to someone- you may have similar experiences but the world is different. This pandemic makes things different too.
  • Young people are growing up with no privacy. The people who are posting things about what is private is their parents- who are posting things about their children since they were little. If you think back to your own childhood- imagine it was your own parents who were taking away your privacy. What would that have been like?
  • If our kids are going through a hard time, we need to be saying instead;
    • “I was your age once but I actually don’t know what it’s like to be you and I don’t know what it’s like to grow up today and it’s way more complex. I give you much respect for the fact that you are having to live in this world and you are going through this and I want to listen.”
    • I’m really sorry. Thank you so much for trusting me to tell me and together let’s think through how to deal with this problem.”
  • Kids shut down when we go into fix it mode or we start asking a ton of questions.
  • We watch our kids going through things that are frustrating and we wind up having trouble knowing how to get involved and when to get involved. We get frustrated with ourselves, with each other.
  • We have had so much family togetherness. Right now people are really frustrated.
  • Frustration is a feeling and your feelings are your feelings. You are entitled to your feelings! It’s what you do with them that is important and we have to consider. It points to how you regulate these feelings when you feel these feelings.
    • Adapt
    • Avoid
  • What do you avoid talking about when you get frustrated—and why? What areas are you able to adapt to more easily? Avoidance strategies- you know that in the short term they make you feel better but they don’t solve the problem. Example: Dishes in the sink. “Fine, I’ll do it.” Kid gets away with being a bad roommate. Enables child. Deals with problem in short term. Or some people blame others. No need to feel shame. Give yourself grace with how you are handling things. Don’t judge yourself or others.
  • Be hard on ideas and soft on people. But our culture does the opposite. We are so judgey.
  • Seeing parents judge each other- losing the ability to be the village we need to be for one another. We need to adapt instead. Step back.
  • For example- strategy. The person who is less triggered and reactive, is the one who talks to the child when something needs to be addressed. That person must be on the same page. Be clear about the 3 things that have to be communicated to the kids—whomever is taking the lead.
  • Young people have been raised in a culture that shows that somebody else’s embarrassment or humiliation is someone else’s entertainment.
  • Need to deal with leadership that says “if you don’t agree with me, you are a problem.”
  • Many people are abysmal talking about race. Many parents believe that it’s enough to talk to kids about kindness and equality- it’s not. Come from generation of not having debate and talking about history regarding race and racism.
  • You get to a point when you look at these two women (the one’s wearing the swastikas) https://www.timesofisrael.com/penn-state-condemns-student-for-posting-photo-of-girls-with-swastikas/ they know it’s wrong- signals what they believe- when you get to that place of signaling their identity online in that moment. This is the culture I’m interacting with. But you can’t toss people out of the community because they won’t leave. They will be celebrated by certain people who are bigots and who agree with white supremacy. If we aren’t able to get into a discussion and be in a relation with you so we understand. What was your purpose? We want to talk about this. If they can not authentically and purposefully have that conversation and say “I want to have that conversation and understand their point of view and listen—and be listened to- then it’s an opportunity to learn and be better for it- if we toss them out, they will find another community—and it will be one that agrees with them. That doesn’t challenge them. Why was I proud? Why did I do something that was incredibly hurtful to others?
  • What was the avoidable education around them? What was their upbringing? Could they be open to learning? We don’t want to lose the opportunity to have discourse. They wind up getting angrier and blaming more- fuel to the fire.
  • Listening is being prepared to be changed by what you hear.
  • If it’s a pattern of behavior where people are demonstrating callousness and a purposeful disregard for the dignity of other people then that is the criteria upon which you say that ‘you can’t be a member of this community because you can’t be in relation with other people in our community that is based on dignity- the worth of other people.
  • If you look at Parkland student, Kashuv, who apologized for racial slurs but was tossed out of Harvard before starting there- we want people to apologize authentically rather than just tossing people out. https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/17/us/harvard-parkland-student-kashuv-trnd/index.html
  • Connect it to dignity. Treat the person with dignity because they made a mistake. You don’t respect the actions of that person but will treat you with dignity- as we go through the process of trying to repair your relationship to this community. If you can’t do this—then this is not the place for you.
  • BUT- anger can be helpful. Anger—channeling into change. Anger meets productive discomfort.
  • Understand legacy of anger so you know how it comes out and affects you. Have you been told not to be angry with people in authority? Elders? Being angry is okay. What were you permitted to do? If I am not being treated with dignity, then I have a right to be angry. If someone else is not being treated with dignity, you have a right to be angry. Separate the position from the person.
  • If you speak out against the person, it doesn’t mean you don’t have respect for the position. Separate dignity and respect.
  • Leaders, coaches, teachers, parents, police officers- some are wonderful, some are not great. People who count the most in school are the young people. That doesn’t mean they can do what they want. But their dignity matters. If the people in power treat kids with respect, the kids will meet them more than half way. Kids feel when they are treated with dignity. They want to be in school. They want to be in relationships with adults. But they don’t want to be in relationships with adults who are dominating and abusive.
  • George Floyd- showed the culture that it’s that bad.
  • Some school resource officers are wonderful. However, what is the larger context? Many SROs are often in schools that are urban with people of color—in full armor-even though most school shootings happen in white areas with white males as the active shooters. What is the larger context? Does this really make the school safer? Some have changed lives but we have to have a harder look at certain cases where there is a mismatch. If the child doesn’t understand or doesn’t agree, are they being defiant?
  • The principle of dignity is where you start. It’s the inherent worth of every person. Everything flows from there.
  • You don’t have to know everyone else’s story to know they have a story. If you knew the reason- you probably would understand why they are acting in the way that they are. Better understanding. Doesn’t excuse. But helps understand. Becomes easier to navigate difficult situation.

Notable Quotables:

  • “People need very concise bits of information to help them manage themselves through difficult times and they needed them separated…and if you have young people at home, they need a way to talk to young people about the experiences you were feeling, as a parent or the experiences they are feeling, as children.” 
  • “Young people can have very strong, powerful feelings and it can be very hard to articulate what those feelings are even under the best of circumstances. It’s so important for young people to be able to take these feelings and be able to process them, put words to them, to draw them. Once they start to do this, the feelings don’t control them as much and don’t have the same power to be able to affect their behavior.”
  • “It’s so deeply important and life -affirming and life-saving to be able to have an experience and put words to it and images to it. That’s what emotional-granularity does. There is a very big difference between words like sadness and despair. We have to give young people those tools.”
  • “We should never say to young people: ‘I know how you are feeling, I was your age once too.’ Even if it’s true that you were their age once, nobody knows that someone else’s life experiences are. You can relate. You can say; ‘I have had a similar experience’ but it’s not the same. And even before the pandemic we shouldn’t be saying that because the way that they have been raised and the culture in which they have been raised is vastly different from the way that we are raised. And with the last 4 months, I don’t think any adult can say to any young person with any credibility that ‘I know what it was like to be your age.’ You don’t.”
  • “We want to be hard on ideas and soft on people. But we live in a culture that is hard on people and soft on ideas.”
  • Young people have been raised in a culture that we all, in some way, participate in that shows that somebody else’s embarrassment or humiliation is someone else’s entertainment.
  •   “Most white people have been absolutely abysmally irresponsible about talking to their kids about race and racism. They’’’ say; ‘I’m uncomfortable and I’m not racist and I didn’t raise my kids to be racist. I taught my child that everyone is equal and we should love everyone with kindness and compassion but it’s not enough and it never has been.”
  • “We must listen. Listening is being prepared to be changed by what you hear.”
  • “If there is a pattern of behavior where people are demonstrating callousness and a purposeful disregard for the dignity of other people then that is the criteria upon which you say that ‘you can’t be a member of this community because you can’t be in relation with other people in our community that is based on dignity’ – the essential worth of other people. Then it’s based on the principles of the institution not ‘you did something bad so now you need to go.’”
  • “We each carry a legacy of how we can communicate and express our anger. That has to do with our socio-economic class, our gender, our race, our religion, our birth order. All of these things will inform how we express our anger. It’s important to have some self-knowledge about what that legacy is for you and to be able to say so when does that get me off my rails? When does that make me not treat myself or others with dignity? When does my anger turn into self righteousness? When does my anger turn into self-hatred?”
  • “If there are adults in positions of power and authority, the people we are supposed to respect, if those people treat young people with dignity, young people will meet those adults more than half way.”
  • “People who count the most in school are the young people. That doesn’t mean they can do what they want but their dignity matters. If the people in power treat kids with respect, the kids will meet them more than half way. Kids feel it when they are treated with dignity. They want to be in school. They want to be in relationships with adults. But they don’t want to be in relationships with adults who are dominating and abusive.”
  • “What we are seeing around the county is young people demanding their dignity.”
  • “It’s hard to feel what you can’t see.”
  • “The principle of dignity is where you start. It’s the inherent worth of every person. Everything flows from there. “
  • “You don’t have to know everyone else’s story to know they have a story.”

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